Down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference final after being shelled for two games by the Boston Bruins, they need to change something. Rod Brind’Amour inadvertently dropped a hint when he refused to name a starting goaltender for Game 3, putting up a smokescreen on Tuesday morning that he probably wouldn’t bother with if he was simply rolling out Petr Mrazek again.
The motivation behind Brind’Amour’s sleight of hand seemed to be more based in ritual than any perceived competitive advantage.
"Just why not? I can’t be that guy who does that, right?" he said. "I know who we’re starting, but I guess you’ll have to wait and see. Sorry."
Based on recent performance, it’s an easy choice.
The Bruins preyed on Mrazek’s tendency to come out to the top of the blue paint and aggressively challenge shooters while putting 10 pucks behind him on 52 shots to open the series. Those were his first two starts after returning from a groin injury and can’t be classified as confidence-builders.
At least not for Mrazek himself. They served as a jolt of energy for a Boston team that felt like it had figured out a riddle after goaltending coach Bob Essensa armed his shooters with a plan to solve the Czech and saw it yield immediate dividends.
"[I] saw Mrazek was aggressive," said forward Chris Wagner, who scored in Game 1. "I’ll credit Goalie Bob to my breakaway move a couple of games ago, that you could open him up five-hole."
"We do know going laterally that he plays out, so there may be an opportunity there if you can get him moving because he’s out challenging," added Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "There may be some net."
If nothing else, throwing McElhinney into the crease would force Boston to rethink its attack.
For the 35-year-old journeyman, it would mark another milestone in an incredible season full of them: His first career NHL playoff start while his partner was healthy. McElhinney has already played three games this spring after Mrazek went down with his injury, posting a .947 to help Carolina sweep the New York Islanders, but those weren’t coach’s decisions.
Part of the story of this Hurricanes’ season is how players like him have thrived in bigger roles than they’ve ever previously been given. Brind’Amour reminisced Tuesday about thinking the season was over when shutdown centre Jordan Staal sustained a concussion in late December, only to learn that 23-year-old Lucas Wallmark was capable of carrying a huge portion of the load in his absence.
"I just didn’t know how we were going to replace that and we really didn’t miss a beat," said Brind’Amour.
McElhinney was claimed off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of training camp and wound up making a career-best 33 appearances — this in his 11th NHL season and with his seventh different organization.
That workload is a pretty strong base to fall back on should he be tasked with the biggest start of his life Tuesday.
"It’s been nice to kind of be in a regular rotation," said McElhinney. "Obviously, Pete’s kind of been the guy in the playoffs here, and deservedly so. He played great down the stretch and got us into this place."
The Bruins were certainly preparing to see him in Game 3.
Essensa held another meeting Tuesday to fill the Bruins players in on McElhinney’s tendencies — a presentation he’d already been working on ahead of time since they knew it was possible they’d see both Carolina goaltenders in this series.
"From what I know — and I really defer to Goalie Bob on this — he’s a little more deeper in the paint, technically sound, not as aggressive," said Cassidy.
"It’s always good if the other goalie has to go in," he added.